Trump’s shark tale: We have to come up with a new word for “unhinged”

Joe Biden’s best debate prep is to watch Trump’s MAGA rally rants with a straight face

By Lucian K. Truscott IV


Published June 11, 2024 9:04AM (EDT)

Former US President and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump arrives to speak during a campaign rally at Sunset Park in Las Vegas, Nevada on June 9, 2024. (JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)
Former US President and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump arrives to speak during a campaign rally at Sunset Park in Las Vegas, Nevada on June 9, 2024. (JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)

We have to come up with a new word for “unhinged.”

That was my reaction after watching the entirety of Donald Trump’s speech at his Las Vegas rally on Sunday. We also need a new phrase for “word salad,” because it does not adequately describe either the structure or content of Trump’s sentences…if they can be called that. 

The best that can be said for the Trump Las Vegas performance is that his face didn’t melt, but then, that’s a credit to a cosmetics company, not to Trump himself.

I have spent more time than I would have, if I were not in the business of covering politics, watching tapes of Trump’s rally speeches this year. During the 2016 campaign, I even attended one of them in Bethpage, New York, on Long Island, where I caught the barest glimpse of Trump appearing to be detached from either his circumstances as a candidate or the reality around him. He began that speech, to a largely working-class audience in heavily Republican Nassau County, with a paeon to the Bethpage Black Course, a storied public golf course near the venue where Trump was speaking. It’s a public course where he played golf as a boy from Queens. Trump ran his mouth about the course his love for the game of golf, how much he played the game now, his ownership of multiple private golf clubs…on and on he went until, from my perch near the back of what had been a massive Grumman aircraft company hanger, I could see people walking out before he had reached the 10-minute mark of what would turn into an hour-long tirade.

Trump’s stump speech has evolved from its infancy back in early 2016. In those speeches of yore, he spent a good deal of time going after Hillary Clinton, his opponent for the presidency. But in the early ones, he had not yet reached the point of leading audience chants of “lock her up,” preferring to link her to non-scandals of the Clinton White House, during which the independent counsel, Kenneth Starr, stumbled into the sub-scandal that became Clinton’s sexual dalliances with his intern, Monica Lewinsky. It led to Bill Clinton’s impeachment, but sadly in Trump’s view, Clinton was subsequently acquitted.

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Today, as has been reported so often there is little need to go into it here, Trump’s stump speech is largely a thumb-sucking litany of all the bad things that have been done to him by nasty liberals, who have morphed recently into Marxists and Communists in his telling. It’s a sad tale that is so unfair, as if fairness has had any place at all in American political life.

But the speech in Las Vegas, delivered to a crowd estimated at about 7,000 on a day when temperatures reached 100 degrees Fahrenheit, turned notable when Trump’s teleprompters failed, causing him to begin what some press accounts have called “riffing” but what I would call a descent into some previously unexplored loony tunes, psychotic, batty, demented, crackpot, crazed, bonkers, maniacal, nutty, daft, non-compos, whacko, gaga parts of his brain. Those are synonyms for “unhinged” courtesy of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, by the way.

After telling the crowd he was going to end “the electric,” Trump started describing a visit he made to a boat company in South Carolina.

Beautiful company, beautiful, guy’s been doing it for 50 years, sells hundreds of boats, they use Mercury engines, they want to take that out, they want to make it all-electric, I asked, “How is it?” He said, ‘It’s a problem, sir, they want us to make all electric boats, the problem is, the boat is so heavy, it can’t float.’ I said, ‘that sounds like a problem.’ He said, ‘also it can’t go fast because of the weight, and they want to now have a 50 mile or 70 mile radius, you have to go out 70 miles before you can really start the boat up, and you go out at two knots, that’s essentially almost like two miles an hour.’ I said, ‘How long does it take you to get out there?’ He said, ‘many hours, and then you’re allowed to go around for ten minutes, and then you have to come back, because the battery only lasts a very short period of time.’ So I said, ‘let me ask you a question,’ and he said, 'nobody has ever asked this question,’ and it must because of MIT, my relationship to MIT. ‘Very smart,’ he goes. I say, ‘What would happen if the boat sank from its weight, and you’re in the boat, and you have this tremendously powerful battery, and the battery’s now under water, and there’s a shark that’s approximately 10 yards over there — by the way, a lot of shark attacks lately, do you notice that? Lotta shark attacks — I watched some guys justifying it today, ‘well they weren’t really that angry, they bit off the young lady’s leg because of the fact that they were, they were … not hungry but they misunderstood who she was.’ These people are crazy.’ He said, ‘there’s no problem with sharks, they just didn’t really understand a young woman swimming,’ No, really got decimated and other people too, a lot of shark attacks, so I said, ‘there’s a shark 10 yards away from the boat, 10 yards, or here. Do I get electrocuted if the boat is sinking, water goes over the battery, the boat is sinking? Do I stay on top of the boat and get electrocuted or do I jump over by the shark and not get electrocuted?’ Because I will tell you, he didn’t know the answer, he said, ‘you know, nobody’s ever asked me that question.’ I said, ‘I think it’s a good question. I think there’s a lot of electric current coming through that water.’ But you know what I’d do if there was a shark or you get electrocuted? I’ll take electrocution every single time. I’m not getting near the shark. So we’re going to end that, we’re going to end it for boats, we’re going to end it for trucks.

The looks on the faces of the MAGA faithful behind Trump were, uh…how can I put this? Blank? Puzzled? Confused? Amazed? 

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And off he went into trucks. 

How a diesel truck “they go from New York to Los Angeles without a stop.” And with electric trucks “they have to stop six times.” Speaking in Las Vegas, there had to be truck drivers in his audience who know that truck drivers must stop for a rest break after driving for 11 hours and must take a 30-minute break after driving for eight hours…and the whole federal driving regulations thing does not address drivers’ bladder capacities. Anyway, Trump ended his disquisition on electric trucks this way: “And there’s another thing, the truck is so heavy, because batteries are so heavy, the truck weighs twice as much as a gasoline truck, a diesel, so what happens is, they have to fix every bridge all over the United States to handle the weight, every bridge has to be rebuilt because the weight is double and triple that of a gasoline or diesel truck. And you say to yourself, who are these people who are destroying our country? Why are they destroying our country?”

Not a whiff of a clap from the sweating crowd. Not a peep.

This from the man who celebrated “infrastructure week” again and again and again throughout his four years in the White House without passing a single infrastructure bill, going around the country speaking in congressional districts of Republican congress members who voted against Biden’s Infrastructure and Jobs Act but show up to take credit for every pothole that’s fixed in their district.

The best that can be said for the Trump Las Vegas performance is that his face didn’t melt, but then, that’s a credit to a cosmetics company, not to Trump himself.

I hope President Biden has a debate prep war room already in operation so these rally speeches can be studied because Biden is going to have to practice keeping a straight face when Trump’s, shall we say, departs from…uh…let’s just call it reality.

By Lucian K. Truscott IV

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist and screenwriter. He has covered stories such as Watergate, the Stonewall riots and wars in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels and several unsuccessful motion pictures. He has three children, lives in rural Pennsylvania and spends his time Worrying About the State of Our Nation and madly scribbling in a so-far fruitless attempt to Make Things Better. You can read his daily columns at and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.

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